Fighting Depression with Healthy Diet and Exercise

By Jared D. Hoffman, Brittany B. Rice, Kaiyuan Tan, James T.F. Wise, and Sara Police

JDHJared D. Hoffman

** Jared D. Hoffman is a PhD candidate in the Lin Brain Lab. He has recently lead an article about fighting depression with healthy diet and exercise. As depression has high tendency to lead to Alzheimer’s disease (AD), interventions to avoid depression would be critical to prevent AD.  The work was originally published in the Health & Wellness Magazine.**


Fighting Depression

If you were told to feed your mind, what would you grab? An apple, a book or sneakers? Grab the apple and sneakers. Eating healthy and exercising act as fuel and protection for mental health. But how do you decide what type of apple or which brand of sneakers to get? Similarly, mental illness comes in many varieties. There are over 200 types of mental illness. Sadly, one in five Americans will suffer from mental illness every year, while around 8 million Americans will have depression.

Edible Weapons of Choice

Depression is a serious problem. Its causes include work or academic pressures, environmental impacts, family history and disease/medication side effects, among others. Food can play a role in the prevention and treatment of depression. The disease may occur due to hormonal imbalances or vitamin deficiencies. To prevent these situations, shifting your diet to contain more vitamin-rich foods may be beneficial. For example, Brazil nuts, brown rice and seafood are high in selenium, an element that protects against free radicals and may decrease the likelihood of developing depression. Furthermore, B vitamins have been shown to help produce important chemicals in the brain that combat depression. Dietary sources of B vitamins include milk, bananas, leafy greens, eggs and clams. There are foods you may want to avoid, such as coffee or alcohol. Caffeine may keep your brain active, but it may also increase anxiety or nervousness, while alcohol may interfere with antidepressant medications and decrease their effectiveness.

Happy Bugs: Tools to Fight Depression

Nutrition can impact mental health through the gut microbiota, the trillions of bacteria inside the human gut. In fact, studies have shown that diverse, healthy gut microbiota impacts the brain by improving mood and decreasing stress and inflammation. Fiber is an important food source for gut bacteria. When we eat foods high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts), beneficial bacteria flourish. Probiotics are living beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. When either consumed in the diet or as a supplement, they increase beneficial bacteria, too. By consuming foods high in fiber and probiotics, the gut microbiota is greatly improved, which can elevate mood, decrease stress and inflammation and improve mental health.

Mental Fitness = Physical Fitness

Doctors tell patients to exercise because it improves both physical and mental health. Research has shown stress hormones levels are elevated in various mental illnesses. Similar to medications, exercise has been shown to reduce these levels. Physical activity has also been reported to improve cognitive function and self-esteem by reducing anxiety, depression and negativity. Exercise improves chemical and emotional imbalances commonly seen in mental disorders.

Many complex factors influence mental health status. A healthy diet, a diverse microbiome and exercise are important to physical health. These areas are equally as important to mental health. A proper diet of vitamin-rich and high-fiber foods combined with exercise can help improve one’s overall mental health.


More information about mental well-being from the Health & Wellness Magazine can be found here.


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